Thursday, May 22, 2014

A room of their own

Long before the kids' room was a bedroom, it was our den, where we as a young unmarried couple spent countless hours lounging and watching tv. And long, long ago, before the building was divided into condos—when the grand old Victorian house housed just one family and Elm trees lined South Union Street, where there were no cars, but just horses and buggies—we think it was probably a dining room. The dumb-waiter door to the en suite loo suggests it was probably the staff entrance to the kitchens. And the large stain glass windows feature a cornucopia of colorful fruit.

As a den, it was our favorite room in the house, but it took some time and some compromise to turn it into the space we loved. The wall color was the thing. The room has beautiful mahogany woodwork. But there is a lot of it and it is dark. When we bought the apartment in 2008, the walls were painted white and the stark contrast against the wood gave the room an odd cold feeling. It needed color to play off the warmth of the wood. I wanted navy blue. Col wanted teal. We ended up consulting a color therapist. I don't believe that is her true occupational title, but the woman was brilliant and found us a middle point—blue Danube.

So we painted and we decorated. We bought our first sofa together and put it in that room. We made creative used of the old closed-up fireplace by putting our tv there. It was a wonderful sanctuary and we spent more time there than any other room in the house.

Three years later, we had our first child and needed a room for her. Our only choice was to transform the den into a nursery. It was hard at first to give that up to a being who we had not even met yet.

In a somewhat noncommittal fashion, we decided to keep the blue walls and most everything else the way it was. I'm glad we did that. Those walls and that room tell a story—about the early years of our relationship, marriage and starting a family together. 

Soon after Amelia was born, I remember hanging up alphabet cards on the wall with little clothespins. I had purchased them earlier that day—my first outing alone after I had given birth. My mom had stayed home with the baby and then held her as she watched me attach cards one by one over the crib, transforming our den into a baby room.

There's something magic about that room that seems to welcome and adapt to each phase of our life. 

Some nights when Amelia was a small baby and I spent hours holding her in the darkness of that room, I sensed there were others in there with me. Spirits from families past watching over us. I would imagine dinner parties in the old dining room—liveliness, laughter and candlelight with the butler standing so still and upright in the corner.

Sometimes the presence would spook me and I'd rush to switch on the light. I still get chills thinking about it now, though I haven't sensed the spirits in a long time. Perhaps they observed long enough to feel comfortable letting us live in this dwelling and they decided to let us be. 

Now we are a family of four and the room is shared between toddler and baby. We added a dresser, we tidied things up. Amelia's toddler bed now takes the place under the fireplace mantle. But we didn't change much else and I'm glad about that.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take some photos and submit them to a design website that I like. They featured the photos a couple of days ago in their user-submitted column. People started commenting on the page and I was surprised at how touched people were by the space—and the color. 

I feel as though I can't take much credit. It is not a consciously designed room, it just adapts little by little to the needs of our family. It is a room that lives and breathes, right along with those who inhabit it. Perhaps the spirits are still there, somewhere in the walls, making accommodations to our silent requests. Then quietly taking note of our moments, significant and otherwise, writing them down with forever ink onto the long parchment scroll that tells this building's history. It is magic, and I feel so lucky to be a part of the story.

Our old den:

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